Crisis Impact on Tunisia’s Red Lines


Sometimes it seems strange that the political elites of different stripes and whims in Tunisia  insist on always walking towards a dead end and seek not to agree on anything.

There are certainly objective reasons for the differences and disagreements and the prevailing state of fragmentation. But there is also a methodological impediment to addressing all of the issues at hand.

This obstacle is represented by the red lines that the parties draw or that they imagine to be drawn.

Lines that generally make the desired goal an attempt to impose ready-made formulas in a way that does not accept concessions or compromises. The difference becomes a path to further escalation and rapid progress towards confrontation, even if it does not happen in the end.

The red lines are drawn by political actors and intellectuals as an alternative to discussion. They imagine that their positions are sacred, making them not subject to review or modification. There is no sanctity in politics, in fact, except for those that politicians make up.

When the opposing parties entrench themselves behind their intellectual stubbornness and exchange epithets and accusations, they cancel the possibilities of criticism and discussion and pave the way for the destructive clash that can only afflict everyone if it happens.

Positions based on red lines include implicit threats to the counterparty that he will face a harsh fate with indefinite features if he dares to cross the limits set for him in advance.

These positions remind you of the lines that military and political leaders from the era of the Roman Empire to the days of George Bush in the Gulf War used to draw in the sand.

The hidden logic in it is mainly the logic of hard power and the fait accompli, not the logic of persuasion.

The red lines and those etched in the sand play the role of virtual barriers separating actors from parties. It separates them from each other and makes the gap between them unbridgeable.

At the same time, the red lines imprison the owners of these positions within high walls and cut off the line of return for them. They are captivated by the choice of rejection and reluctance, and captivated by its noness.

Certainly, there are basic principles on which the state is based and society is supposed to defend them, such as the victory of the country’s sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity. These principles are usually stipulated in the constitutions of nations, and any attempt to encroach on them is usually rejected by the majority, whether through or without popular referendums.

However, these basic concepts are usually debatable. And the experiences of political transition in Tunisia since independence have shown, for example, that the texts of constitutions, including the articles “prohibited from revision”, are subject to repeal in whole or in part whenever regimes change or the ruling elites find an interest in modifying them.

The belief that there are texts, policies or laws that are valid for all systems and times and for all economic and social conditions is an illusion that has nothing to do with reality.

And there is a difference between the basic principles that are unanimous and the files related to the management of the economy or the selection of systems that embody the choices of society or that present perceptions of major reforms that must extend to sectors such as education, health and others. These are necessarily controversial files, given the divergence of visions around them, which necessitates consultation and the search for formulas that satisfy the majority, since they will determine the future of all.

Only participatory paths lead the interlocutors to take decisions that guarantee the stability and progress of nations, not individual and unilateral decisions.

It is not a matter of arbitrary requirements that the International Monetary Fund asks Tunisia, for example, to involve trade unions and other social parties in discussing the reforms it needs within the scope of a loan agreement to get out of its financial crisis.

It is not a matter of political outbidding that many foreign donors require parliamentary ratification of loan agreements and reform programs that have deep repercussions on the countries concerned.

These requirements are similar to the guarantees required by insurance companies when a citizen asks them for a loan to build a house.

Only those who do not need a bank loan to build their home can dispense with the terms of the insurance companies. As for the one who needs a loan to secure his housing and food, he cannot refuse the conditions under the pretext that his demand is sovereign.

These are the constraints of reality that have been highlighted by the experience of governance in Tunisia since independence. The Bourguiba and Ben Ali regimes did not, in most cases, accept dialogue with their opponents as a way to develop the political experience in the country, but in most cases they followed pragmatic approaches that were adapted to circumstances and developments and took into account the country’s limited capabilities.

Whenever one of the two regimes deviated from that by entering into uncalculated adventures or fell into the trap of dogmatism and wrong decisions, he was eventually forced to reconsider his accounts. Perhaps one of the most prominent examples of this is the Bourguiba regime’s abandonment of its socialist experiment, known as “cooperation,” when its disastrous consequences for the economy and society appeared. In other cases, revisions failed before it was too late, and arrogance prevailed over the necessary intellectual flexibility. It was the collapses. Everyone has lessons in the past. Or so it is supposed.

The attempt of elites to impose barriers in discussion and negotiation is above all a reflection of the shallowness of democratic culture and the absence of its historical roots in societies. This may be one of the reasons why the democratic transition in Tunisia has stalled since 2011 and the illusions of the “Arab Spring” quickly evaporated there and throughout the region.

Democracy cannot be built on zero-sum equations or on excluding the possibility that the dissenting opinion holder is right, even partially. The belief in the existence of absolute truths, whether linked to religion or other ideological justifications, constitutes a destructive illusion for political tracks.

Trying to impose red lines on disagreement is a rejection of the principle of difference itself. It is also an indication of the detachment of its owners from others and from reality. Their refusal to interact with those who disagree with them, or even just to listen to them, does not mean that they are necessarily right. Previous experiences in Tunisia and other countries indicate that the rulers remaining in power more than is necessary and surrounding themselves only with those who share their opinion makes them delusional to the contrary until the illusion evaporates without a prior appointment.

Today, Tunisia does not need red lines that increase the atmosphere of tension, tension and clash, as much as it needs to rebuild bridges of trust between the various parties wishing to participate in the construction and contribute to raising the many challenges: an economic crisis that puts the country on the verge of bankruptcy, and a continuous drought that has lasted for four years threatening people who are thirsty and a political crisis taking place between the struggle for power and the reluctance of frustrated citizens from public life.

It is clear that the red lines are not only drawn by the calculations of the competitors in the political arena, but also reflect the feelings of hatred and exacerbated hatred.

But the lines, whatever their colors and whatever the depth of the grudges they entrench or reflect, ultimately need to intersect and meet on the day the fate of the country is at stake.

The current circumstance in Tunisia is certainly one of those days.


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